It Should Come As No Surprise That Most Film Audiences Prefer Dubbing to Subtitles

Before we dive into a new week, allow me to indulge a pet peeve. Here is Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson on Parasite, the Korean film that won Best Picture last night:

The deck was stacked against the film from the start, for reasons that its good-natured and much-beloved director Bong Joon-ho cheekily joked about all season as he collected awards from critics’ groups and industry guilds. “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles,” Bong bantered after collecting his Golden Globe for best foreign language film in January, “you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” The challenge was simple: Americans just don’t like reading subtitles, and the Academy is mostly made up of Americans, working in the American film industry.

First off, it’s hardly just Americans who don’t like subtitles. No one likes subtitles. They’re only common in markets where film revenues aren’t high enough for studios to recoup the cost of producing dubbed versions.

But that’s not my pet peeve. My pet peeve is that of course no one likes subtitles. After all, they eliminate one of the key aspects of the acting craft: reading lines. It is faux sophistication of the highest order to pretend that this shouldn’t—or doesn’t—matter.

None of this is to say that you can’t enjoy subtitled films. Of course you can. And I saw almost no movies last year, so I have no opinion on Parasite one way or the other. It’s only to say that spoken dialogue is a key part of the theatrical experience. Of course it matters.

This post has been revised.

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Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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